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Thu 18 July 2019
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DJ and writer Chris Sullivan on the timely new film ‘Beats’, as he explores 30 years of rave culture in the UK.

‘Beats’, a feature length drama directed by Brian Welsh, features two young Scottish ingénue who discover Rave Culture, underground DJs, illegal parties, ecstasy and house music.

It is set sometime in the mid-1990s after the Government introduced the Criminal Justice Act of 1993. This gave police the power to “remove persons attending or preparing for a rave” which was characterised by “amplified music played during the night” (with or without intermissions). The law’s specified “music” included “sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats”.

On any Saturday, there were about half a million or more young people off their trees dancing in illegal raves across the UK.

In 2009, the Act was used by police to shut down a birthday barbecue held on legal property for 15 people. It is indeed a nonsense.

‘Beats’ revolves around two teenagers who attend a ‘rave’ and take ecstasy. They have the time of their lives until the police charge in armed with batons and shields and batter the crowd, putting many in hospital. Undoubtedly, the film gives a powerful insight into what caused millions of young people to embrace the rave ideology.


Turning Hooligans into Softies

Undeniably, for your average Joe brought up amongst beer boys, pubs and fighting, this was Heaven. You’d roll up, pay your entrance fee (sometimes £25, which in today’s money is about £60), pop a proper E (costing £15 to £25), such as a ‘Mitsubishi’, and you were off. Everyone loved each other, there were no brawls and no bad vibes, while the music took you to another planet. The youth were in their element.

“You’d see these freshmen walking into ‘Spectrum’ which was on a Monday night in the club Heaven,” chuckled original raver Gary Haisman whose record ‘We call it Acieed’ stormed up the charts to number 2 in 1988.

Without Ecstasy, it would have been like the first Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 – only without the LSD.

“And they’d be all wide-eyed and nervous, not knowing what to expect. Then you’d see them dithering about deciding whether to buy an E, which were £20 a pop back then which is like £60 now, next thing they’re on the dance floor drenched with sweat and then you’d see them outside at five am or so still off their box looking like Moses when he came down off the bloody mountain. Only difference was, he hadn’t swallowed his tablets. And just like Moses, off they went and spread the word all over the UK.”

You’d think the authorities would have been glad about the Rave scene as it turned hardened hooligans into softies.

“I remember going to ‘Spectrum’, which was the main Acid House night in the UK in 1988,” reminisces ace Acid House face Johnny Rocca. “And there was all these proper hard football hooligan firms there that I knew and I thought ‘oh no it’s going to kick off’, but it didn’t as everyone was so off their face on the best E ever they were all hugging each other and totally loved up.”

“I remember Barry Mooncult,” recalls DJ Andy Weatherall, one of the world’s biggest house DJs. “He’d been a proper nasty Chelsea football hooligan at one point and there he was outside ‘Spectrum’ rearranging the petals of a daisy he’d found and trying to revive it by pouring mineral water on it.”


It Couldn’t Have Happened Without Ecstasy

“The music and attitude was great,” clarifies Gary Haisman “but this wouldn’t have happened without the Ecstasy. Without it, it would have been like the first Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967 – only without LSD.

In the summer of 1987, the Dutch turned MDMA into tablets that were easy to sell, easy to take and strong. Their arrival coincided with the rise of Rave clubs like ‘Shoom Spectrum’, my own night ‘Afters’ in Clink Street and ‘Hedonism’ in Hanger Lane during Easter 1988.

In 2009, the Act was used by police to shut down a birthday barbecue held on legal property for 15 people.

You had to be off your box to listen to this relentless beat, but it was the confluence of all these elements – the music, the clothes, the drugs, the political landscape that met and created this scene that was absolutely f***king brilliant. 


The Backlash

And there’s the rub. I was there from day one and have always been of the opinion that the Criminal Justice Act of 1993 was the result of back-handers given to ministers by the likes of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Association and the big breweries. They saw their future threatened by this massive wave of young people, who weren’t drinking and were attending unlicensed venues that they couldn’t earn from.  

I can’t think of any reason why the authorities would take such a strong stance against such a peaceful movement. Hippies took acid and smoked marijuana. Punks took speed. But, the level of response for the ‘powers that be’ didn’t come within a country mile of what occurred with rave.  

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I was at one event outside of London, in a field with perhaps 10,000 people all having a great time, when suddenly 100 or more Special Patrol Group policemen charged in and started clobbering these E’d up kids. It was like something from a dystopian science fiction novel, where the police – empowered by some crazy fascist dictator – went nuts on the innocent. It was totally unnecessary and very worrying.

But, lest we forget, this reaction was also spurred on by Daily Mail-reading middle Englanders (todays Brexiteers), who, believing all they read, thought that this was the work of the Devil. All the right-wing press needed was something to hang its coats on to lambast the movement and sell newspapers.

This opportunity came in the form of 21-year-old Janet Mayes who died in October 1988 after taking Ecstasy. Oddly, the first death from the drug – that of 19-year-old Ian Larcome, who died after he allegedly swallowed 18 ‘little fellas’ following a police stop and search – went largely unreported. He probably wasn’t pretty enough.

He’d been a proper nasty Chelsea football hooligan at one point and there he was outside ‘Spectrum’ rearranging the petals of a daisy.

Meanwhile, the BBC banned all acid house.

“It’s the closest thing to mass-organised zombie-dom,” sycophantic DJ Peter Powell said. “I really don’t think it should go any further.”

We didn’t agree, and neither, it seemed, did the public.


The Biggest CounterCulture Movement

Rave was, without doubt, the biggest counterculture movement of the 20th Century.

Some might argue that the punk or hippy movements were, but neither of these prompted illegal parties in, or on the outskirts, of every major UK city attracting hundreds of thousands of adherents every Saturday night.

In 1990, there were huge events in Blackburn, Hull, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Derby, Nottingham, Brighton, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and just outside of London. On any Saturday, there were about half a million or more young people off their trees dancing in illegal raves across the UK.  

It was like something from a dystopian science fiction novel, where the police – empowered by some crazy fascist dictator – went nuts on the innocent.

No one can doubt that house music took over the world.

This year is the 30th anniversary of when Rave music really took off in the UK, during what was dubbed the Second Summer of Love. But, where did this tsunami start, and how and why was it so embraced by all and sundry?

If you want to find out, keep reading Byline Times for Part 2 of the history of rave culture, coming soon.’

Beats’ is in cinemas now.

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